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20" Dob report from Devon, 17th Feb 2010


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Although I got to use the 20" at AstroAdventures near Bude all week, the Thursday night was by far the best seeing and transparency, once the sleet clouds had moved away around 10pm. The sliver of moon had set by this time, so the sky was inky black and the milky way clearly visible. Because the beastie lives in an unheated roll of roof obsy it doesn't need to cool, so as soon as the roof was off we were up and running. I had the pleasure of RobH's company for the session, which made a refreshing change from the solitary nature of most of my observing. It was great fun to share the experience of finding the objects, talking about what we could see, and sharing the frustration of NOT being able to find things too! I have to own up and say that most of what we saw was down to Rob's knowledge of the sky, although I did go back the next night and bag some of the new Messiers for myself. I'll only claim them once I find them on my own, so not all of these will make it on to my list, even though I've now seen them!

We started off with M51, the Whirlpool galaxy. I've never seen this with my 12" so I don't have a comparison, but the spiral structure of the galaxy was easily discernable and very clear in the 30mm eye piece. Added a 2x Barlow and I could see the companion galaxy below the spiral, and make out a nebulous lane of matter flowing between the two. This fascinated me - I can't wait to see it with my 12" now, although I'm guessing I might be disappointed!

On to the Crab nebula, M1, which stood out remarkably against a rich star field and a pitch black sky. I could discern some wispyness or strands to the outer regions of the nebulous cloud.

Third time lucky for finding the Eskimo nebula, NGC2392, a planetary nebula in Gemini. A ring of bright nebulosity surrounded a single bright star. The edges of the nebulosity seemed to feather out towards the edges. This was small but an interesting object, and worth the stress of finding it!

My favourite open cluster to date next, M35. This filled the eye piece and smacked me in the face with its sparkling beauty. I was in for a surprize though - I've never noticed using my scope, but there's a much smaller cluster that was in the field of view, just on the outskirts of M35. Carl must have heard our excitement from the imaging obsy, as he popped in to have a look for himself. Research has shown me this is NGC 2158 - it apparently is mag 8.6, contains many more stars, is much more compact, over 10 times older and over five times more remote than M35. I can't wait to try to see this with my 12". Have any of you 16" owners seen this? I'm guessing it would be almost invisible in my scope, but I'm certainly going to try for it now I know it's there.

Another new treat for me next, with the Leo triplet of galaxies. M66 was on the right at the top of the field of view, a face on spiral galaxy. I could make out the structure in the arms of the spiral. To the left of this in the EP was M65, which looked more like a fuzzy blob, but clearly visible. Further away and below these in the eye piece sits NGC3628, a very long cigar galaxy. I could discern a lane of darkness at the top of the cigar, spanning its whole length. I then had fun trying to fit them all into the same FOV and I could just about manage it.

As M44 was so clearly visible as a naked eye object I decided to have a peek at it with the monster beastie. I love it when you have to move the scope around to fit all of the object in, it's similar to M45 in this respect. I still can't make out the supposed Beehive shape, but I wonder if this is because I'm seeing it too close up? I could see an asterism towards the centre of the object that looked to me like a star shape, and I amused myself for a while looking at this star made up of stars.

On to Auriga next as it was so nicely placed in the sky. M38 first, and another surprize - there was a tiny little smudgy cluster-like object in the same FOV, just on the right hand edge of the open cluster. I have never seen this before, and it wasn't my eyes playing tricks, because Rob saw it too. I couldn't find anything out about this at the time, and still can't! I'll have to do more research I think. Does anybody know what this might be?

M37 next, the smallest of the three Auriga Messier clusters. Although this cluster appears to be comprised of fewer stars than the other two, the stars look brighter.

M36 looked great in the 20", really dense in the centre then fading out at the edges - lovely.

Rob was keen to have a peek at M81 and M82 visually, as he's been imaging them lately. After seeing his fantastic image of M82 it was interesting to compare it to the view through the beast. I could see a long cigar shaped galaxy and was surprized to see a dark lane crossing this diagonally. Of course there is no discernable colour in the scope, but this is the red part in Rob's image. Fascinating.

M81 looked immense through this scope. Averted vision brought out the spiral arms and dust lanes in the galaxy. I then had fun fitting them both in the field of view together.

On to another new object for me now, M101 the Pinwheel galaxy. This object looked huge in the 30mm, with the spiral structure clearly visible. The longer I look, the more detail pops out at me. I think this should look good even with my 12".

M97 next in Ursa Major, the Owl nebula, which looked like a bright, round blob with a darker patch inside. I assume this is one of the 'eyes', although I could not discern the other one. The outside edges of this planetary nebula faded out to the surrounding blackness.

A short hop over to M108 and I could see darker lanes in the structure of this edge on galaxy. I am amazed by the amount of contrast the big scope gives against the dark sky. It really does make objects like this stand out.

Staying in Ursa Major for M109. I never realized there were so many galaxies around this constellation. At magnitude 9.8 this face on spiral galaxy is not as bright or large as some of the others I saw this night, however the contrast against the dark sky was great. I could barely see the spiral structure with averted vision.

An ominous looking cloud started to move in from the north, so we had to just go where we could. M104, the Sombrero galaxy, although low to the horizon, was an awesome sight, and another first for me. The shape reminded me of a flying saucer, and there was a dark lane spanning the whole of the galaxy at the top in the eye piece. Stunning, and another on I am anticipating bagging for myself.

The last object of a wonderful night's viewing turned out to be the Cocoon galaxy. I can't even tell you where this is, as we had to rush to beat the weather. I can tell you it is in fact two galaxies interacting. The larger galaxy had definite spiral shaping and I could see dust or matter flowing between the two of them.

We began to feel snow falling just after 1am, so had to pack up quickly, but I was well satisfied with what we managed to achieve in three hours. I'm very grateful to Rob for my guided tour of the Devon skies and I've now got plenty of targets ready to claim for my very own. I loved every minute of using this scope and I think Rob enjoyed his evening of visual astronomy for a change. Worth every penny, if not priceless!

Edited by dobserver
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Evening Steph :)

I did love evry minute of it, and I must add that we had the ARGO (I think its called that) goto type syetem available to us, but we never turned it on....it was much more fun to find the objects by starhopping.

For me, I've imaged a lot of these objects, and although I have a pretty good idea of whre they are, had never seen them.

A brilliant night, back to basics and it was excellent!



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Hi Rob,

I wrote down the goto (well, push to) device, it is a Lumicon NGC Sky Vector. I used it for half an hour the night before you came. It's very easy to use, and if I hadn't had such a competent tour guide I may have resorted to it's use again, but I spent the last night there visiting things you had already shown me, and giving myself a pat on the back for finding them. Much more fun I reckon.

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What a great report !

It must be amazing to use such a large aperture under dark skies. I've only once seen sprial arms in a galaxy visually and that was at the SGL4 star party with a 12" scope - the galaxy was M51.

Sounds like you really made the most of the opportunity - thanks for telling us about it :)

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Wow, Steph, what an amazing observing session!!

When you go back to your 12", you will still be able to pick out some of the details, because you have already seen it and know what to look out for.

It is true in this hobby that the more you look, the more detail you see. :)

I had a peek through a 20" Dob early last year. I was just getting into the hobby more seriously and did not appreciate the awesomeness of that experience. However I did not get to see any DSOs, because the scope's owner was observing planets that night.

Edited by Beulah
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Wow what a night and what a report. Yes you can see Ngc 2158 in a 16" dob and I'm sure your 12" will pick it out as well. One object I can't see due to LP is Ngc 3268 so well done on seeing that.

An aperture of 20" certainly helps but the main benefit I think is the location, no light pollution is what really matters.

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Cracking report Steph. I'll bet that 3hrs flew by at the EP of such a scope. Every place you look to would be another "oohh..." or "aaahhh"...

Dark skies make an enormous difference to these DSO sessions and I'm pleased you managed to grab a slice of the clear stuff (and I don't mean Vodka !). What EP did you order for your LB ?

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A great report Steph it sounds like a fantastic session. The cluster by M38 is NGC1907

That's it - that's what I saw! Although the little cluster wasn't as clear as it looks in your image. Thanks for clearing that up for me :)

Edited by dobserver
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What EP did you order for your LB ?

Hi Steve, I got me a Paradigm 8mm, although I'm not sure about it yet. I'm going to start a thread about it I think to get some feedback.

The only thing I really wanted to see with the 20" and couldn't was the White Rose Cluster. It was situated just at the apex of the roll off roof and I couldn't wangle the scope low enough to see it!! Gutted - it would have been fantastic on this night! *sigh*

I guess that's life though, impossible to have it all!

Edited by dobserver
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